Looking to the skies: Women in Pakistan learn to integrate geospatial information technology into their fields

08 Sep 2020


Empowering women in GIT Pakistan

After successfully conducting the empowering women in geospatial information technology (GIT) training in Nepal, we rolled out the virtual training exclusively for women professionals in Pakistan in mid-July 2020. Organized over a four-day period, the training brought together 26 women from Pakistan – academicians, researchers, engineers, and managers. These participants were competitively selected from over 200 applications received through an open call.

In its fourth iteration, the training dealt with theoretical and practical knowledge in the use of Earth observation (EO) data and GIT, using examples specific to Pakistan. Hand-on exercises were designed to introduce the participants to remote sensing (RS) and geospatial concepts and their applications. The course also dealt with visualizing and interpreting EO data and indices for vegetation, snow, and water, and creating their own EO datasets. In particular, the training addressed how free and open-source geographic information system (GIS) tools and RS open data can be used for a wide variety of real-world applications and solutions ranging from monitoring and management of water resources, natural resources, forests, agricultural land, and ecosystems, and in emergency response and disaster management. The training also showcased different science applications developed under our SERVIR-HKH Initiative and various other data products. A session was also dedicated to discussing satellite rainfall estimates and our regional flood outlook.

To each her own

Bareerah Fatima, Program Liaison Officer at the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, was on the lookout for trainings on open-source alternatives for GIS software when she applied for this training. She is currently working on a satellite-based irrigation advisory service for 20,000 farmers in Pakistan.

Fatima shares, “The SERVIR data products and the rainfall forecast modelling introduced in the training will help me improve the quality of our irrigation advisory service. This will support our beneficiary farmers in their efforts to achieve climate resilience and food and livelihood security.”

Bareerah Fatima participating in the remotely conducted training
Bareerah Fatima participating in the remotely conducted training for women on GIT from her work station at the Council (Photo: Faizan ul Hasan/PCRWR).
Bareerah Fatima installing and demonstrating soil moisture
Bareerah Fatima installing and demonstrating soil moisture sensors to farmers in Bahawalpur, Pakistan (Photo: Nadia Jabeen/PCRWR)

A majority of the participants reported that they were introduced to free and open-source RS/GIS alternatives for the first time and thanked the resource persons for seamlessly integrating different aspects of RS/GIS concepts.

Aisha Malik, lecturer at Karakorum International University, applied for the training as she was interested in understanding spatio-temporal variations in urban settlements and their relations with sustainability and ecosystem services. She shared that the course was a perfect opportunity to learn GIS concepts during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

She explains, “I used to be intimidated by GIS tools. This training and the hands-on exercises in particular have increased my confidence. I can now teach RS/GIS basics to my undergraduate and graduate students at my university. This is a great addition to my skillset and greatly relevant to my PhD.”

Aisha Malik participating in the training
Aisha Malik participating in the training. (Photo: Abdullah Khalid)
Aisha Malik and students taking part in the National Clean Green Pakistan
Aisha Malik and students taking part in the National Clean Green Pakistan Tree Plantation Drive 2019 at the Department of Forestry, Karakorum International University

Fakhra Muneeb hails from Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan, a region prone to glacial lake outburst floods. She attended the training on RS and field-based glacier monitoring organized by our Cryosphere Initiative in 2019 and has since been working as a researcher with the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research Group at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad. She applied for the GIT training as her academic interests lie in RS approaches and the use of spectral indices in the detection of water bodies. She hopes to use learning from this particular training in preparing an inventory of glacial lakes in the Hunza River basin using satellite data.

Fakhra Muneeb participating in the training from home
Fakhra Muneeb participating in the training from home during lockdown (Photo: Sabih Uddin)

Sana Rasool, Institutional Development and Coordination Analyst at the Ministry of Climate Change in Pakistan, believes that GIT tools enhance decision making. She adds that lessons from this training will aid her extensively in developing water, sanitation, and hygiene policies at the Ministry.

She shares, “The four-day training covered a wide range of intermediate and advanced functions in GIS/RS. I am thankful for the resource persons for their emotional intelligence, making special considerations for namaaz hours, and responding to late-night requests as well.”

Rasool suggested that a follow-up training module be prepared to cover basics of Python for geospatial applications.

An encouraging start to pushing GIT for women in Pakistan

Rajesh Bahadur Thapa, Remote Sensing and Geoinformation Specialist at ICIMOD and lead trainer for the event, shares that the zeal among the participating women was very evident: “The Microsoft Teams channel and the WhatsApp group were constantly abuzz with queries and solutions from participants. We could tell that participants were collaborating on exercises in the wee hours of the night as well.”

Thapa shares that experiences from the training’s Nepal iteration were helpful in preparing for the Pakistan edition as both countries experience slow internet and internet/power outages. As with the Nepal training, the team made all presentations, resource materials, and session recordings available following sessions via Microsoft Teams to allow participants to review and catch up on sessions. Our team also accommodated changes in the programme schedule to account for the time difference between the two countries and prayer times for the participants. Given the preference of WhatsApp over Viber as an instant messaging service in Pakistan, resource persons set up a separate backchannel for communication.

Birendra Bajracharya, Programme Coordinator – SERVIR-HKH Initiative at ICIMOD, shares that there is a dearth of women professionals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. “By organizing such women-centric trainings, we hope to create more opportunities for women to pursue careers in GIT and geosciences. These trainings are meant to inspire people to become passionate about GIS. We also hope to nurture a network of capable and empowered women professionals in the HKH region,” says Bajracharya.

We have organised a number of training on GIT exclusively for women in Nepal and Pakistan through our SERVIR-HKH Initiative. The aim is to build capacities of regional and national organizations to support women and girls in STEM and to use EO and Earth sciences to inform and improve development decision making in ways that are gender responsive. By using a multi-faceted approach for promoting gender, social inclusion, and a culture of using science for society, the Initiative will be better positioned to achieve the goal of increased use of Earth observation information for development, including early action for risk mitigation and resilience building, and sustainable resource management.